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If yahapalana govt. had arrested Zahran over incidents prior to Easter Sunday carnage, many lives could have been saved – Sarath

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By Saman Indrajith

Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (retd) Sarath Weerasekera on Wednesday (23) told Parliament that those who made public statements on Easter Sunday terror attacks without sharing such information with investigators would be summoned by the CID to record statements.

Participating in a debate on a motion by the Opposition that victims of the Easter Sunday terror attacks have not been served justice, the Minister said that if anyone had any information about the Easter attacks, it was his or her duty to report such information to the police and share them with the investigators. “It is wrong and illegal for them to make statements to the media without sharing those facts and details with the investigators. Such actions will affect investigations and create undue suspicions among people. Hence the CID will summon them to elicit information. In the same manner, anyone who feels that he or she is wrongly accused by those giving voice cuts, can complain to the CID so that the CID could investigate those false statements. He or she also has the right to seek legal redress in this regard.

“The motion being debated here states that justice has not been served to the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks. It is also said that the government is trying to silence those who raise their voice against it. This is wrong. The victims in this instance were those innocent Catholics who came to pray in the churches and innocent Sri Lankans and foreigners who were in the hotels at the time of the attacks.

They were the victims of a suicide bombing orchestrated by Zahran and his group. These attacks took place because Zahran and his group were not taken into the custody by the former government authorities in fear of losing Muslim votes.

“There had been eight incidents before the Easter Sunday attacks and the attackers should have been arrested. Zahran’s younger brother Rilwan was injured while testing explosives. Three months later two police officers were killed and their weapons taken away in Vavunathivu. Then a month later the Buddha statues in Mawanella were desecrated. A month later, a large stockpile of explosives and about 100 detonators were seized in Wanathawillua.

“Two months later, Thaslin, who provided security authorities with information about Zahran and his group, was shot and seriously injured. A month later, a motorcycle fitted with a bomb was exploded by way of a test run. Thereafter, the Easter attacks took place.

“It is ridiculous to say that this government has not served justice for the victims. It is even more ridiculous that this allegation is made by those who did nothing to prevent those incidents. They could have investigated those eight preceding incidents and taken Zahran and his men into custody to prevent the attacks so that there would not have been any victims.

“We have helped the injured survivors of the Easter Sunday tragedy receive treatment and compensation. If they need anything more, we are ready to grant their requests. It is also our responsibility to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice and to do justice to the victims.

“We are doing everything possible for their sake. The former government could not do anything meaningful for seven months after the attacks. No suspects had been detained on detention orders. Only a group of suspects had been arrested

“But after this government came to power, we made arrests. Today, there are 74 suspects in remand while 27 are held on detention orders. The investigations are in progress in a systematic manner. This government has taken all necessary steps to ensure that all intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies take independent action against individuals involved in that heinous crime.

“We have taken steps to bring back 52 Sri Lankan nationals from foreign countries. They have been directly and indirectly involved in extremist activities. We have done so with the help of foreign intelligence services. To date, 74 accused have been indicted in ten High Courts. One case has been filed before the Gampaha High Court, two in Kandy, two in the Kurunegala High Court, four in the Puttalam High Court, two in Kegalle, two in Galle, one in Kalmunai, two in Nuwara-Eliya, and thus 24 cases in ten High Courts against the 74 accused.

Similarly, cases have been filed against 23 persons including Naufer Moulavi in Colombo on 23,270 charges, 21 cases have been filed in Kegalle and 14 in Puttalam. Other countries that have been the target of such terrorist attacks had taken five to 20 years to file such cases.

“We have banned 11 local organisations and two international organisations that nurture extremism and terrorist ideology. Also, persons suspected of extremist attacks have been blacklisted under the United Nations Act No. 45 of 1968.

“The federal court in Los Angeles has filed a lawsuit against Naufer Moulavi, Mohamed Riskan and Mohamed Millhan, who were the main accused in the attack. The Attorney General provides legal assistance in this regard. Legal action has been taken against three Australians of Sri Lankan origin involved in spreading extremism in Sri Lanka in connection with this attack.

“Steps have been taken to confiscate their properties in this country. Legal action has also been against four Maldivian nationals who had links to the Easter attackers. We have also taken steps to confiscate the assets of the National Thowhee Jamaath, which was responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks.

More than 110,000 phone calls have been analysed.

“Some Opposition MPs spoke of the mastermind of the Easter attacks. According to the evidence we have, the mastermind is none other than Naufer Moulavi, who went to Qatar in 1997 and became an extremist. In 2006, Darul Adar, an organisation was founded in Kattankudy to spread extremism.

In 2008, Naufer went back Qatar to work as an Arabic-English translator. He delivered extremist lectures to Sri Lankans in Qatar. He married off Hidayah, the daughter of his wife’s sister to Zahran.

He was in charge of the ISIS branch in Sri Lanka after 2014. In 2016, Zaharan was conscripted for creating an Islamic state. The Moulavis around Zahran were ideologically driven. Through Zahran, his brother Rilwan, along with Zhaini, mobilised people through social media to work towards creating an Islamic state.

Hadiya’s brother says that Naufer was behind all this. Before the Zahran’s attack, they created a video where they said they were carrying out attacks for the sake of the IS sacrificing their lives for the Caliphate. In addition, if you know of any other mastermind, please let us know”.



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Lanka on the brink of economic collapse: Prez seeks international help to overcome crisis

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, addressing the 27th International conference on ‘Future of Asia’, yesterday, called upon the international community to help Sri Lanka overcome its economic crisis.

Addressing the virtual summit, the President said that it was no secret that the last several months had been extremely difficult for Sri Lanka.

“We are currently undergoing a severe economic crisis, which has profoundly impacted the lives of all Sri Lankans, resulting in social unrest. The virtual shutting down of the tourism industry and the sharp decline in inward remittances from expatriate workers due to COVID19 in the past two years and increasing inflation due to other events combined with Sri Lanka’s high outstanding debt obligations to cause a severe financial crisis,” he said.

President Rajapaksa said that in April, Sri Lanka announced a ‘Debt Standstill’ with the intention of restructuring this external public debt through negotiations with our creditors, whilst simultaneously approaching the International Monetary Fund for a suitable programme.

“In parallel to these efforts, we have appointed a new Prime Minister and a Cabinet of Ministers with representation from multiple political parties, and we are fostering ongoing discussions in Parliament towards forming a national consensus on the way forward,” he said.

Given below are excerpts of his speech: “Sri Lanka is Asia’s oldest democracy. It is crucial that the solutions to our present national crisis are supported through our nation’s democratic framework.

“As we work through such solutions, however, we urgently require the assistance of our friends in the international community to ensure that our immediate needs in terms of the importation of essential medicines, food supplies, and fuel are met.

We are also in urgent need of bridging financing to restore confidence in our external sector and stabilise our economy until the debt restructuring process is completed and an IMF programme commences.

“Sri Lanka is grateful for the support provided by India, our close friend and neighbour, which responded with generosity in our time of need. The support extended by our other neighbours and development partners, as well as regional and global institutions, is also deeply appreciated.

“Japan remains one of Sri Lanka’s key development partners, and we hope that the negotiations now underway regarding bridging funds from Japan will conclude soon, and support Sri Lanka as we try to stabilise our economy and our nation.

“I appeal to the other friends of Sri Lanka present here today, to also explore the possibility of extending support and solidarity to my country at this very difficult time.

“A positive aspect of recent events in Sri Lanka has been the increased engagement of our youth in the nation’s politics.

“We have seen similar activism in other countries too, where the loss of confidence in prevailing systems has led to strong displays of opposition against governments.

“It is important to ensure that these systems undergo the reforms that are essential to their improvement so that future generations will benefit from better opportunities in education and employment, leading to an increase in their productivity.

“The grave difficulties facing Sri Lanka are an early indication of the long tail effects of the COVID19 pandemic, made worse by the ongoing conflict in Europe that may affect other vulnerable nations too.

“Supporting such vulnerable nations through these difficulties is essential for regional as well as global stability.

“It is therefore earnestly hoped that nations able to do so, lend a helping hand to these countries as they seek to overcome the very serious threats they face. An even more widespread problem that the world will face in future concerns food security.

“The shortages of food items and sharp increases in food prices likely to occur in the months ahead will place considerable strain on many countries.

“It is therefore essential that we pay attention to this crucial problem and prioritise agricultural production locally and improve our resilience in the face of this coming issue.

“Increased cooperation amongst nations will also be necessary to ensure that we overcome this issue.

“As we look to the future, it is no secret that even more widespread challenges caused by human induced climate changes lie ahead for the Asian region as well as the world.

“The adverse impacts of such climate change, including loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and pollution, degradation of air quality and ecosystems, will all contribute to significant challenges for many nations including in food security.

“Maritime security in Asia is another thorny issue that require serious policy attention. In addition to traditional security concerns involving the projection of naval power, many non-traditional issues including piracy, human trafficking, drug-smuggling, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing continue to pose challenges in this region.

“Sri Lanka has a great interest in the security of the Indian Ocean region, and the protection of the sea-lanes has established a strong relationship between Sri Lanka and dominant regional players including Japan.

“Sri Lanka has responsibility over protecting sea routes, maritime resources and combating maritime crime over a significant region of the Indian Ocean, and we look forward to partnering with the Asian community as we seek to expand our capacities in these areas in future.

“Another enduring regional concern has been civil unrest, conflicts, and communal violence. Sri Lanka too has been marred by sectarian tensions throughout its history. I am of the view that policymakers must come together to devise collaborative regional mechanisms on such issues.

“Exchanging expertise and experience to build capacity in the fields of peacebuilding and reconciliation is essential. So too is the empowerment of the underprivileged, because this is one of the root causes of unrest.

“In this context, I respectfully submit to this forum that the core objectives and functioning of some existing regional bodies are presently affected by conflicts of member countries on matters relating to economic, political, or strategic interests.

“It is my hope that member countries will be able to overcome such impasses and work together in the true spirit of Asia to fulfil the region’s priorities.

“In concluding, I once again thank Nikkei for having organised this conference, and the Government of Japan for hosting this event.

As Sri Lanka overcomes its present difficulties and starts rebuilding for tomorrow, we look forward to constructively participating in future such events too, for the betterment of Asia.”

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BASL, Opposition reject 21-A draft

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The Bar Association has rejected the 21st Amendment to the Constitution that has been presented by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, to the Cabinet recently.

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, has rejected the 21 A in its present form.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, SJB spokesperson Eran Wickremaratne explained why the SJB wouldn’t support the proposed law as it would further enhance the executive.

A spokesperson for the BASL told The Island that they pointed out serious shortcomings in the draft and the need to rectify them. According to him, the BASL, in letters dated May 23 explained their position to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickemesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Rajapakse.

The JVP and TNA too have rejected the 21 Amendment in its present form.

The following is the text of the BASL letter addressed to the President, PM and the Justice Minister: “On the 23rd of April 2022, the Bar Council approved the “PROPOSALS OF THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF SRI LANKA (BASL) TO RESTORE POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC STABLITY IN THE COUNTRY”. In the 13-point proposal the BASL proposed the introduction of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution by repealing the provisions of the 20th Amendment and restoring the 19th Amendment, and the re-establishment of the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions which existed under the 19th Amendment whilst enhancing their financial independence, transparency, and accountability.

The BASL is concerned that whilst the 21st Amendment will restore the provisions of the previous 19th Amendment to the Constitution as regards the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions, there are several vital provisions which were found in the 19th Amendment which are not incorporated into the draft 21st Amendment.

The provisions of the 19th Amendment precluded the President from assigning to himself any subjects or functions. However, the 21st Amendment does not incorporate such a provision and as such the President will be able to continue to retain Ministries and assign to himself any subjects and functions and take over subjects and functions of any Minister. The BASL is of the view that the 21st Amendment must include a provision amending Article 44(2) of the Constitution removing the power of the President to retain Ministries and assigning to himself any subjects or functions. Such provision must be made operative as soon as the 21st Amendment is passed.

In addition, the BASL observes that the President’s powers to prorogue and dissolve Parliament are left intact, in contrast to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution where the President could dissolve Parliament only after four and a half years following a Parliamentary election. The BASL is of the view that the provisions in the 19th Amendment relating to dissolution of Parliament should be restored. In addition, the BASL recommends that the following matters which were contained in the BASL proposals be included in the 21st Amendment:

1. A provision for the members of the Monetary Board to be appointed with the approval of the Constitutional Council (in addition to the Governor of the Central Bank);

2. A provision for the appointments of the Secretaries to the Ministries, Governors of the Provinces, Ambassadors and Heads of Missions be done on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Cabinet of Ministers;

3. A provision to require Presidential Pardons to be done according to the recommendation by a body established by law, appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council;

4. A provision to enhance the financial independence, transparency, and accountability of the Independent Commissions.

The BASL further recommends that the number of members of the Constitutional Council who are not Members of Parliament be increased from 3 to 5 and conversely the number of Members of Parliament on the Constitutional Council be reduced from 7 to 5 as was found in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. This is consistent with the position taken by the BASL in 2015 when the 19th Amendment was enacted.

The BASL calls on the Government to ensure the early enactment of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, as it is a necessary step towards achieving stability in Sri Lanka.”

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Plea for debt moratorium to rescue drowning SMEs and saving millions of jobs

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Around 4.5 million Sri Lankans employed in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) might lose their jobs in the coming months unless the government stepped in and assisted businesses, Chairman of Sri Lanka United National Businesses Alliance (SLUNBA), Tania Abeysundara told the media in Colombo on Wednesday.

She warned that a lot of SMEs might collapse in the next month unless the government arranged a debt moratorium.

“4.5 million people work in SMEs. When we asked the Central Bank Governor, he said that he can’t assure a debt moratorium. He was worried about the banking sector. I would like to ask the governor, wouldn’t the banking sector collapse if the SME’s can’t pay their loans,” Abeysundara said.

She said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had approved money printing to pay the salaries of government employees.

“When the government has no money to pay their employees, they can always print the money. What about us? Are we also to print money? Unless we receive a debt moratorium we will have to close our businesses,” she said.

Meanwhile, Treasurer of the SLUNBA, Lakmal Perera said that “once people lose their jobs, it is likely that they would come on to the roads and that will lead to a chaotic situation.

“We asked the government about this and they have no answer. There is no way that we can pay our loans with this contraction of the economy. We need an answer soon, when these people are on the roads the 225 MPs won’t be able to stop them,” he warned.

Vice chairman of the Association and President of the Vehicle Importers Association, Indika Sampath Merenchige also insisted that the government should talk to the business owners and give them a moratorium. If that did not happen, SMEs would be compelled to stop repaying loans.

“We give the government two weeks. We have employees that have been working with us for 10-15 years. They are a big part of how we have succeeded and survived. So, we can’t send them home. We have to somehow pay them. So, we have to stop paying loans,” Merenchige said.

Deputy Chairman of the SLUNBA, Susantha Liyanarachchi, who is also the Chairman of the National Construction Association of Sri Lanka (NCASL) said that there was a danger of a large number of garment factories leaving the country and as they couldn’t expect the cabinet that had been appointed to navigate the country out of the economic crisis.

“If garment factories leave, what will happen to foreign currency earnings?” he asked.

Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe said that the minimum economic activity would be experienced in the country in the next six to eight months.

“That means the economy will contract. We estimate that the economic contraction this year will be greater than any other time in post-independence Sri Lankan history. No one can bring down inflation below 30-40 percent in the next six months. People who are poor and vulnerable will be severely affected. Unless the government provides some support, the poor will find it hard to live,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that poverty levels would increase and when an economy contracted there would be a lot of unemployment, especially in the SME sector. (RK)

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